A new report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows that NJ Transit did not test the engineer involved in the Hoboken train crash for obstructive sleep apnea. In September 2016, a commuter train crashed into the wall at Hoboken Terminal. More than 100 people were injured and one person was killed. The engineer tested positive for sleep apnea shortly after the train crash.
According to NTSB documents, there is nothing to suggest the engineer had been tested for the common disorder since 2015. NJ Transit claims it requires train engineers to undergo sleep apnea screening. The NTSB’s report suggests NJ Transit did not follow its own policy.
An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that causes interruptions in breathing during sleep. Sufferers of this condition can experience intense daytime drowsiness. In some cases, a person with undiagnosed sleep apnea can even nod off while performing daily tasks, such as driving.
Some have speculated that the engineer who crashed into Hoboken Terminal may have suffered from these symptoms before the incident. An investigation discovered the train had been traveling at twice the speed limit right before the crash. During an interview, the engineer claimed he did not recall speeding up or applying the emergency brakes.
Can Sleep Apnea Increase the Risk of a Train Crash?
Sleep apnea has been identified as a major hazard in the commuter and commercial transportation industries. In fact, a Harvard study on the commercial trucking industry suggested that drivers with this condition have a five-fold risk of crashing.
The NTSB report is especially heartbreaking because sleep apnea is easy to screen for and simple to treat. Sleep apnea is typically treated with a continuous positive airway pressure device (or CPAP device). This treatment halts frequent interruptions in breathing by forcing the airway to remain open during sleep.
Commuter transportation companies have an obligation to ensure their employees can safely transport passengers. Businesses that fail to meet this obligation may be liable for damages. Victims of the Hoboken crash and their family members have filed personal injury lawsuits against NJ Transit.